By Breona Walker, CCE Fellow for Student Engagement

In 2016, Anton Knoche volunteered with All Hands and Hearts for three weeks to assist in disaster relief efforts in Ecuador after the earthquake, and he always hoped to take part in a similar effort again.

Two years later, the opportunity presented itself when Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina.

As a University of Richmond exchange student, he reached out to friends about the chance to spend Thanksgiving break in New Bern, North Carolina, not only to serve the community, but to learn about the country they were living in. This opportunity piqued the interest of one of his peers Yu Kataoka.

Knoche and Kataoke visited the Office of International Education to inquire if there was a way for this experience to be funded, and they were referred to the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE).

With support from the CCE’s Student Engagement Fund, Knoche and Kataoka went on to New Bern to assist in restoring close to 70 houses. They engaged in tree removals, home repairs, and mucking and gutting severely flooded homes.

"The idea was to get rid of the mold on a long-term basis so it doesn’t come back even though things have been cleaned and repaired," Knoche stated.

In addition to serving in a place they’d never been, Knoche and Kataoke were able to celebrate Thanksgiving for the first time.


At the meal, they connected with residents of the homes they were restoring, including one homeowner whose great grandfather built their home on land he acquired after slavery was abolished in 1865.


"Some people would argue that people should move if they know they live in an at-risk area," Knoche said. "But after just one conversation with someone, you understand that their home means more than just a piece of property to them."

Their biggest takeaway from their time in North Carolina was seeing how all of the volunteers had the same determination, even though they all came from different paths – from professional engineers to college students.

"No one was forced to come and assist, yet everyone all took the time to work really hard," Kataoka said. "It was great to see everyone work together towards a common goal of fulfilling a purpose in an area even though it was an unfamiliar one."